(The Center Square) – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hinted toward loosening COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday.
It has been nearly 14 months since the pandemic started. In the meantime, approximately 6.6 million Michiganders have received a vaccine.
"I would anticipate forthcoming policy changes potentially that will feel a little bit more normal for all of us," Whitmer said after a worker safety news conference in Macomb County. "The more people that get vaccinated, the more things we'll be able to do. But, we are continuing to monitor what the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is recommending and our data here in Michigan."
A hundred and six days into 2021, Grand Rapids-based Above and Beyond Catering owner Kim Smith recorded her first sale this year, due to Whitmer’s restrictions.
Smith has been in business for 31 years, but during the 14 months under Whitmer’s restrictions, she lost 37 employees, and revenue is down 97% in 2021. Now, 11 employees must handle sales, bookkeeping, cooking, cleaning, operations, and logistics.
Smith runs two catering businesses, so restrictions hit her twice as hard.
“We’re talking millions of lost revenue,” Smith told The Center Square in a phone interview. “[Whitmer] is killing my businesses. She’s making decisions not based on science and not in the best interest of her economy.”
Weddings, funeral homes, and caterers can only have 25 people indoors, although movie theaters, bowling alleys, and casinos can have up to 300 people, and some can serve food.
Smith has turned away over 100 opportunities because she can’t hire workers when they can make more on enhanced federal unemployment benefits extended through Sept. 6, with a $300/week bonus.
“We’re promoting a lazy culture and a culture dependent on government, which is not what the American people need,” Smith said.
Her clients are canceling through September, and Smith doesn’t blame them.
“You can’t dance. You can’t mingle,” Smith said. “So tell me, what self-respecting person wants to have a party where you can sit at a table with maybe six people and have a meal?”
Smith said Grand Rapids caterers have reached out to Whitmer’s administration with concerns but heard back only “crickets.”
If Whitmer doesn’t allow reopenings soon, Smith suggests holding pop-up events indoors at Costco, which has more lax restrictions. The East Lansing Costco is 155,000 square feet and is limited to half of typical capacity.
“I think it would be a freaking blast to have a bride walk down one of those giant aisles at Costco, say their vows by the meat department, and then circle around to the rest of the store to try all the samples,” Smith said.
Whitmer’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Even after 14 months of restrictions, Smith was still handed a property tax bill over $7,800.
Michigan has enacted the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns in the Midwest with the longest-lasting restrictions, although those didn’t stop Michigan’s COVID-19 numbers from becoming the worst in the nation.
Neighboring Indiana has dropped its mask mandate, and all of Michigan’s neighbors have dropped capacity restrictions in restaurants.
Another blow to downtowns statewide is the indoor office ban Whitmer’s administration extended through September.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control said fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks outdoors unless they're in a large crowd.